04 September 2017

SUBJECT: Malcolm Turnbull using the ABC as a bargaining chip for media ownership changes. 


When Parliament last sat we had the government welcoming what it called 'constructive engagement' with One Nation for its flawed media ownership changes. We now know what that 'constructive engagement' entails. It is basically a package of measures designed to undermine the ABC and the SBS as our trusted public broadcasters. We know that this is a government that has no commitment to our public broadcasters. We know that despite the fact that prior to the 2013 election, when Tony Abbott stared down the barrel of the camera and promised there would be no cuts to the ABC or SBS, they inflicted over $300 million of cuts in their first budget. This is a government that cannot be trusted with the ABC. They ignore the fact that the ABC is a trusted institution. They ignore the fact that Australians value their ABC. And I'm very pleased today to be joined by Ben Oquist of The Australia Institute, who has been conducting a survey which has resulted in a petition to be presented to the Parliament with over 15,000 people putting their names to the government and to the crossbench not to use the ABC and our public broadcasters as a bargaining chip in their flawed media ownership changes. We also know, and Senator Hanson has made it very clear, that she will be seeking further cuts to the ABC in the next budget. This situation just demonstrates how desperate this government is, what a hash it has made of the public policy process in this regard and the fact that they ignored how trusted and how valued our ABC is. And I’ll hand over to Ben to make a few comments. 

BEN OQUIST, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, THE AUSTRALIA INSTITUTE: Thank you very much for hosting today's event and thank you for speaking out so strongly against the proposed deal with One Nation to effectively attack both the ABC's independence and funding in the future. Apologies firstly from Margaret Reynolds from ABC Friends. Sincere apologies that she cannot attend today because of weather in Hobart. She says ' The future of independent public journalism is essential to our democracy. ABC Friends National represents thousands of Australians who want to maintain a strong, independent ABC free from political interference. Thanks to The Australia Institute for their strategic research endorsing this.' Margaret Reynolds, National President, ABC Friends. Indeed I couldn't put it better myself. In today's media landscape a strong independent, well-resourced public broadcasting sector is needed more than ever. Now whatever you think of the media reforms being proposed by the Government, the one thing that shouldn't happen as a result of the passage of those media reforms is a weakening of public broadcasting in Australia. Now more than ever we need a strong independent public broadcasting sector with strong journalism, strong independent journalism and strong investigative journalism. The proposed deal with One Nation weakens that and what’s more, we know it’s a stepping stone for further cuts. We at The Australia Institute have been overwhelmed by members of the public worried about what One Nation is trying to do to the ABC through this deal on the cross-media ownership legislation. But our message here today is that it's not too late. While the government has struck an arrangement with One Nation, of course that is not enough for it to pass the Senate. Thousands of Australians who are represented here in this petition today are urging the rest of the crossbench Senators not to do a deal that would weaken the ABC, that would undermine its independence and in the end lead to further future potential funding cuts. So I'm going to hand over this petition to Michelle to say thank you for carrying the message forward of so many Australians who want strong public broadcasting, and want a strong and independent ABC and SBS. 

JOURNALIST: Michelle, where are your discussions with Nick Xenophon at and do you think he can be persuaded? 

ROWLAND: Our discussions with Nick Xenophon primarily resolve around this issue of what is going to happen with our public broadcasters and what he is prepared to do in order to preserve media diversity in Australia. We know that Nick Xenophon has a number of items on the table and they revolve around public interest journalism and related issues in that regard. Labor has made it very clear; we do not support repeal of the 2 out of 3 rule. We are however prepared to enable the government to have passage of measures such as the abolition of the 75 per cent reach rule and the introduction of a spectrum management charge in place of the current broadcasting licence fees. So we'll wait and see how this plays out but our message, indeed it's not our message it’s the message of a lot of Australians to the Xenophon political party, is that they should take heed of what a vote for this package would mean. This is the deal that's on the table at the moment. The deal on the table is one between the government and One Nation and the ABC is being used as a bargaining chip in that.  

JOURNALIST: What do you make of his idea of tax breaks for smaller publications? 

ROWLAND: Well the reality again is that we already have a public inquiry through the Senate in order to look at some of these issues and that hasn't even finished its inquiry and hasn't even reported yet. Those items would need to be costed, but in the meantime it would seem to be a completely back-to-front proposition to say we should simply junk the piece of legislation that does all the heavy lifting for diversity in Australia in return for those measures.